Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Spirited rides (or revisting the hierarchy of needs)

"Abraham Maslow (1943) stated that people are motivated to achieve certain needs. 
When one need is fulfilled a person seeks to fulfill the next one, and so on." Link

Maybe Maslow was wrong. If you're so inclined, hear me out on this one.

At this point in my life, at the tail-end of middle age (almost halfway to a century), I am acutely aware that I am fortunate. No. That's not right. I am acutely aware that I am blessed. I am blessed  to be able to satisfy the first four psychological needs that Maslow identified. My biological and physiological needs, for air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sleep are pretty much a given.  A nice house in a nice neighborhood give me protection from the elements, security, order, law, stability, freedom from fear.  I enjoy love and belongingness in the form of friendship, intimacy, affection and love. My career provides some of the esteem needs such as achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, self-respect, respect from others. So according to the theory, I should be working on Self-Actualization - realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.

But this past weekend, I find myself once again returning to this sport and once again randonneurring takes me back to the basic needs. It is a place where breath (air), food, drink, shelter, warmth and sleep are no longer a given. Where I face the elements, vulnerability, and, yes, even fear.

I do keep the sense of love and belongingness. These are tools that I carry that as surely as I carry the things I need to survive. 

Maybe I jumped into the deep end of this discussion too soon. There's a back story. Forgive me. You weren't there. Let me fill you in on that before we come back to this. 

I was chasing a dream an idea: ride a full series in 80% of the time allowed under the RUSA rules and thereby earn recognition in a made up award. This 400K would be the third of the four rides in the series. My friends, my riding partners, Chris N. (from NJ), Paul S. and JB, all volunteered to ride with me - no questions asked. I have ridden so many miles alone that I neither expect nor need company but yet when they offer to accompany me, the offer fills my heart. 

The course was a flattish boomerang tour of south Jersey, including the Pinelands, with 100K between the official controls.

I have been training, though I rarely talk of it outside of with a few close confidants, and when the ride begins, I feel the benefits of my efforts.  Can I be honest, really stripped back honest with you? My GOD it feels good to be alive. Riding hard and fast. Feeling the graceful circular transition from effort to recovery. Lungs filling with deep breaths. Pushing hard against that invisible edge of maximum sustained effort. Being a human animal in full flight. Just as god and nature intended.

It feels even better to share that experience with a group. We dance a mad dance. We fly a flight of fantasy. We hunt an uncatchable game. I know why the herds run en masse. The sound of their hooves spurs them on, their collective breath enlivens them, their collective pounding of hearts beat an irresistible rhythm that irresistibly drives them forward. Always forward. Ever forward.

It rained twice that day. 

We did not stop for the morning rain. It fell lightly. Just enough to wet the road but not enough to slow us. I pull when I can, as long as I can. Follow me as I hurtle forward into this uncertain future.

We did not stop for the evening rain. It fell hard. Beating a steady stream against water proofed jackets and wool leg warmers. The rain washed the sweat from my eyes and cleansed my thought and spirits. I threw  back my head and stuck out my tongue to taste it as it fell, cold and wet, fresh from the sky.

Before, between, and during the rain, we rode.  No one in our group bitches about the rain. We dress for it and then ride through it. We do not curse the darkness.  We bring lights and we ride through it. We leave behind shelter and safety to face the elements with a sense of belongingness, a sense of self-esteem and a sense of joy.

So maybe Maslow was wrong. Unless that is what he meant by the peak experience. 


  1. Your blog is proof that there is intelligent life in the universe. Keep doing what you are doing!

  2. Thanks for sharing, brings me right with you! Reminds me of Mary Oliver's poem "Summer Day" and the last line, " Tell me, what is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" Good luck on finishing the last part of your dream!

    1. That's quite a compliment. Summer Day is a great poem from a favorite writer.

  3. Thank you for the insight and thoughtful blog post as usual. I could see your fitness and 15 hours and change on a PA 300K is darned impressive. You can do a sub 32 hour 600k on normal terrain for sure.

    What makes us tick. We chatted over pizza after a recent 200K about a fellow rider who did the Brevet with two 6 mile rides in his cycling legs. I really enjoyed chatting with him as we talked about how it is possible to get into a different state during long endurance rides. He called it "flow" and to me it is some kind of primal state where I sometimes feel like a machine. Maybe I have some deep Maslow stage one need that gets fulfilled on these long rides, I dunno. Maybe it is state 4. I know that effortless "flow" state has eluded me this year but I rather spontaneously decided at the last minute to chase it starting June 4th. I am trying to fulfill a lifelong dream of crossing america by bike. I have avoided making any plan or any real preparations. Maybe I want to make it harder to fulfill the Maslow first stage of needs. I'm clipping in at Astoria on June 4th with 100 other crazy racers and riding my bike. Why? To ride my bike. I won't be competitive with these real racers but I am sure my randonneuring experience will enable me to overcome whatever challenges get hurled at me. I hope to almost be into Colorado when you finish the 600K and I wish you GL on the 600K but you won't need it.
    Ed B

    1. You're doing the Trans America Bike Race? Fantastic! I too would like to do a cross country ride someday and I am always encouraged to know people who give that a try. One of the unexpected perks of volunteering this season was getting a chance to chat with you in person. I have no doubt that you'll savor the experience and get everything you can from it and from yourself. Best of luck! I'll be cheering you on!

    2. Thanks. I'm doing the Trans America Bike Race but in a not so racy way with my heavier bike and just not the mindset to race, I'm just going to do my ride at my pace using my power meter to make sure I do not go too hard. I'm just going to diesel along consistently at 15-16 mph and not get off the bike. Once the initial honeymoon phase of the ride ends, I'm sleeping a good amount every day although if it is hot, I could see myself sleeping during the day and riding at night in the remote areas. I'm going to try for 300 KM per day average in around 15-17 hours riding giving me 4-7 hours of sleep assuming only around 2 hours off the bike per day but there could be trouble finding food some days and I'll just adapt. It is just like doing a fun 1200K ....and then doing five more straight away. There is a young lady from Alaska who I suspect could well win. Ed B

  4. Ed B, very prescient--Leal did win in fine fashion. I had no idea who she was when I rode out from the start along side her, but I did notice that she was the only one wearing running shorts and a T-shirt, and not the usual cycling kit everyone else had. So she was obviously crazy like a fox.

    And Mr. Iron Pants, you should definitely plan do TABR! I found the opposite of what you describe re: Maslow. Although basic, safety, belonging, and ego factors were all scarce and uncertain, it was all about self actualization for me. I was well behind Ed and the rest of the working age riders, but I really had no problem chugging along at my pace and enjoying just being in the wind for 45 days (and there was plenty of wind, mostly in my face). My bib shorts were too loose when I got to Wyoming, so I threw them out and finished in a pair two sizes smaller. And when I finished, I would have turned around and done the route the other way if I could have gotten away with it! I met so many interesting and helpful people along the way that I would never have had the chance to chat with otherwise. And a trans-continental ride is definitely a bucket list item worth checking off!, so why not do it in the best way possible, racing with a mainmast kit, The thing I really like about traveling by bicycle is that it teaches you that you really don't need all that much stuff.

    Doug H.

    1. Doug,

      Congrats on completing this huge bucket list achievement!